The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008): USA

Reviewed by Byron Potau.  Viewed at The Riviera Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA.

Every year there come one or two films that make you appreciate the unique gift of cinema, and the realization that it can take you places and infuse you with feelings that nothing else can.  The cinema is seductive and Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is the film that should be sweeping people off their feet this year.

Mickey Rourke is Randy “the Ram,” an aging wrestler far past his prime and just hanging on.  He lives in a trailer which he can barely afford, and works part time at a supermarket for the kind of jerk of a boss we all dread.  The only place he can get respect is in the ring and he is willing to do all manner of abuse to his body to entertain the ever dwindling crowds.  When a heart attack puts an end to Randy’s career he needs to find some other way to define himself.  He tries to reconcile with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), and conveys his affection to his stripper friend, Marisa Tomei, of whom he is a very good customer.  He even finds pleasure in working in the meat department at the grocery store, his entertainer persona being a nice fit with the customers.  However, can all of this replace what he gets from a roaring crowd?

If I sound passionate about this film it is because I am.  This is not a technical leap forward in cinema.  Director Darren Aronofsky strips the film down to its bare essentials.  You won’t find any CGI to wow you.  What is here is old fashioned, hardnosed, storytelling and it is more incredible than any explosion, alien, car chase, or liquid metal man that you can find.  Mickey Roarke bares his soul, and a lot more, leaving it all out there for you to see and judge.  The word for it is raw.  Like his character he gives everything he can.  There is no remainder.  He could not have given more to this role if he had ripped his own heart out and body slammed it on the table.  His triumph is our triumph.  His disappointments are our disappointments. 

The rest of the film is just as great with an excellent big hair eighties soundtrack with Ratt, Quiet Riot, and Guns and Roses among others.  It seems that, while no one was looking, Marisa Tomei turned herself into an incredibly talented and respected actress as she continues to earn that Oscar she won that took so many by surprise many years ago.  Here she sheds any pretense and really lets it all out there.  It is a brave performance and the best of her career. 

Director Darren Aronofsky handles the film with a sensitivity and respect that will forever change your perception of professional wrestlers.  Never again will you dismiss wrestling as fake and, therefore, not worth your respect.  There is a lot more to it than meets the eye.  Such is the power of this film that you will think twice and realize the punishment these men put themselves through.  It may not make you a wrestling fan, but you will have an admiration for what they do.  So far this film, while receiving much critical acclaim, has fallen far short of the credit it deserves.  There are some great films out this year, but this one is head and shoulders above them and it would be criminal, and further add to the meaninglessness of the Oscars, if this film does not walk away with Best Picture, Actor, and Director honors.

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